After starting the year with positivity and resolutions, for most of us, we have suffered a momentary weakness, lapse or given up entirely. It is not for want of trying. In fact, research suggests that the average person spends around four hours a day practising self-control and willpower. So, despite the best intentions, why do many of us suffer from a lack of willpower?
A client recently came to me for help to understand and improve her willpower;
“After two weeks of a complete sugar detox (removing carbs, fruit, sweeteners and my weakness, chocolate) I felt more balanced, healthier and happier. My sleep improved and so did my skin; I also lost 2kgs in weight; it was brilliant. However, despite all the benefits I felt, I caved. For no reason, I began to eat chocolate bars and drank sugary drinks, and I have not been able to start the detox again. Why did I give up when I was feeling so positive?” – Stephanie
The importance of willpower
Unfortunately, when starting on any lifestyle change, whether it is a diet or giving up a vice such as smoking, sugar or alcohol, it is a big test of our willpower. While we may feel great and see the benefits, often that is not enough to keep us on track.
While psychologists still haven’t completely understood the complex process of willpower and self-control. It is evident that willpower is both a;
- Limited resource which depletes over time
- A ‘muscle’ that gets stronger with use.
Interestingly, even with willpower training, our brain will overestimate our self-control. This means that even when we feel we have mastered resisting a temptation, this is the time when we are most likely to be weak and fall at the hands of temptation.
As mentioned earlier, willpower is a resource that depletes, especially with tiredness. While we may start the day with the best intentions as our energy runs low as the day goes on, our self-control lowers too.
Despite knowing that willpower can be tricky to master, there are several tips I offer to clients who struggle with willpower issues such as diets, sugar addiction and smoking.
Five tips to improve your willpower
Maintaining willpower is hard. If you suffer a setback in your goal and give in to temptation, forgive yourself. Be compassionate. Admire the willpower you managed for that long, but understand that giving in does not have to be the end of your commitment. Regret is another depletion of willpower, so be kind to yourself, and you will have more willpower to continue with your plan.
Meditation offers many benefits; it can help you to manage emotions, reduce stress and improve focus. All of these are needed to help you to maintain self-control and keep you committed to your goal. See the more benefits of meditation here, and try these breathing techniques to help you become more focused.
Being happy, smiling and boosting your mood all contribute to having a higher level of willpower. While a stressful day may lead to our resolve weakening, try and find an activity that makes you happy to keep your willpower boosted. Try exercise to increase your levels of happiness-inducing endorphins or laughter yoga to keep you smiling.
To help your willpower along, your body needs energy. If you feel your resolve weakening, then make sure you have eaten and fed your body’s energy system. It is wise to keep a selection of healthy snacks with you to make sure you can resist temptation and have food on hand to keep hunger pangs at bay.
Practise, practise, practise
The more we practise self-control, the better our levels of self-control become. In one study, self-control in one area of life meant after several weeks; participants showed more significant levels of self-control throughout other aspects of their lives. If you have a goal that you are struggling with, start with a smaller goal to practise your willpower and prepare yourself.
Stay on track with your goals with hypnosis
If you are struggling with your relationship with food or want more help to improve your willpower to give up addictions such as smoking, sugar or alcohol, then hypnosis can help. For a free 15-minute call to discuss your goals, contact Mindy here.
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Psychology Today. (2018). 19 Reasons Why Willpower Fails You, And What To Do About It. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/neuronarrative/201312/19-reasons-why-willpower-fails-you-and-what-do-about-it [Accessed 26 Jan. 2018].
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